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Money Matters – Part One, The Bigger Picture

An overall look into how to assess your finances

“Poverty entails fear and stress and sometimes depression. It meets a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts that is something on which to pride yourself but poverty itself is romanticized by fools.”
– J.K. Rowling

If being a single mother has taught me anything, it’s that I’m actually pretty good with money. Years and years of falling foul of credit cards, student overdrafts and hire-purchase loans left me with a poor credit rating and a hell of an education in what it means to be smart with money. Because when those repayments creep up on you (and don’t they just creep) it can feel like your bank balance will NEVER be in the black again.
Luckily for me, I’m a quick learner and an avid reader, and I’m happy to pass my teachings on to you, my young Padawan. There’s a lot to take in, if you’re new to all this frugality business, so I’m going to write this up in two parts.

PART ONE

Where are you going wrong and what can you do about it?

Look at your finances

Go and grab your basics– incomings, outgoings, direct debits, expenses etc. It’s time to take a good hard look at your life.

1. Your first stop is MoneySavingExpert.com to their income tax calculator. It’ll help you figure out your take-home pay.

2. Add together your essential regular bills. Your essentials are rent/mortgage, gas, electricity, water, council tax. Everything else is a luxury. What does your total come to? Take it off your take-home pay (the one you worked out in step 1). Whatever’s left is your household income.

3. Are your bills higher than your take-home pay? Scroll down to ‘Help!

5. If you have money left over after your bills, it’s time to look at your luxuries. How much are you paying for your internet/home phone/tv package? Your mobile? Car costs? And the biggie- your food bill (I’ve added ‘food’ to luxuries for a reason, we’ll get to that later- in Part 3). Take that off your household income. Whatever is left is your disposable income.

6. No disposable income? Take a look at ‘Help!‘ then scroll down to ‘Learn How to Google

7. If you still have disposable income but find yourself in debt, then you really need to look at Part 2

Help! My Bills Are Too High/Income Too Low!

Get yourself over to www.entitledto.com and pop in all your details. It’ll tell you what you’re realistically looking at as an income and what you may be entitled to, in terms of help from the government. An absolute lifesaver if you’re struggling as it’ll work out both your benefit entitlement and tax credits award. This is not a final and secure amount, and you may entitled to other help.

Another brilliant resource is Turn2Us which has both a benefits calculator and a grants tool. Did you know, for example, that United Utilities have a grant to help you pay for you water bills? I wouldn’t, if it weren’t for this site. Good guys, good guys.

It can be a little hit-and-miss but stick with it, if you take your time to go through the results, you’ll most likely find a grant to help you out of your debt.

Then take a look at a couple of comparison websites (side note: I have an old, old email address I use for sites like these so I don’t get inundated with useless spam after I check) to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Some of the most popular includes Money Supermarket, Compare the Market (double bonus of Meerkat Movies) and USwitch.

Finally, an oldie but goldie, Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has a team dedicated to help with specific problems. They can show you how to write to large companies requesting payment agreements, assist you with benefit claims, right through to discussing relationships, discrimination and problems at work. Their website is full of useful information but you can also make an appointment to meet with specially trained staff and discuss your personal finances.

Learn How to Google Like a Pro

I’ve been asked countless times questions that could, quite honestly, have been just as easily resolved by a quick Google. The best way to get the results you want are as follows:

  • “” To look for a specific phrase or sentence, put it in quotation marks and Google will only show you results that include only what is written in the quotations marks, for example “credit union” or “lone parent”
  • – Use a dash before words that you don’t want included in your search. This way, if you see a site that frequently pops up that has nothing to do with what you want, you can minus it.
  • ~ A tilde before a key word will tell Google to also search for it’s synonyms, for example ‘~advice’
  • Site: Use this to find links within a specific site. For example ‘site:gov.uk tax credits’
  • Related: Use this to discover sites with similar intent or purpose to the one you’re looking for. Eg. ‘Related:moneysupermarket.com’

Now you know. Magic.

Read, Read, Read

It’s all well and good looking for advice and help online if you don’t read up what’s on the sites linked. I know money-related sites make pretty meaty reading but it’s absolutely worth it and you’ll take most of the confusion out of your situation by staying calm and reading over everything. Yes, even the boring bits.

Most people don’t realise that the EntitledTo website actually has links to further help and advice after you’ve completed your calculator. They see their results and immediately click off thinking that it’s the be all and end all. Scroll down. Expand sections. Read.

Don’t have a computer? Local libraries allow you to use their computers and online services for free. Sign up locally, it takes about ten minutes.

Talk it Over

If you’re in a couple, speak to your partner. There’s no point only one person working out an entire families finances. If you’re on your own, ask for help.

No-one’s expecting you to be perfect, so give yourself a break and use resources like the CAB. They’re there to help. And if money problems are really getting you down and you don’t know who to talk to, you can always make an appointment at the doctor’s. Stress is just as debilitating as many physical illnesses and can lead to further problems like depression and anxiety (also doctors can put you in touch with local help that you might not have found online, cause they’re nice like that).

Stop Expecting Others To Do It For You

You can read up as much as you want, ask for help wherever you want and complain, stamp your feet and cry but until YOU create positive change nothing is going to happen. Be kind to yourself- but take control of your own life.

God Damnit, Pony!

Other Handy Sites
www.gov.uk
https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en
http://www.findyourcreditunion.co.uk/home
http://www.experian.co.uk/

If you have any questions or feel you could add something to this, feel free to comment! Part Two involves all my tips and tricks for making your money go further, so look out for that in the next few days!

Originally published at livelifemag.blogspot.com

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